Meera Elbay: Your New Normal
By Meera Elbay, founder of Your New Normal.
My name is Meera Elbay and I am the founder of Your New Normal, an enterprise supporting bereaved young adults in the UK.
Growing up in London, I felt a considerable amount of pressure to follow a certain path, which consisted of going to university, pursuing a professional career in the City and working all conceivable hours in an unfulfilling and mentally draining career. I felt that I was on a conveyor belt of overachievers all working towards the same goals and aspirations, and because of this I had forgotten who I was.
Keen to jump off the conveyor belt, and now in my early thirties, I have already had three different careers! After graduating from university, I first pursued a career as a commercial lawyer and practised as a commercial litigator for a number of years before moving into legal publishing. Then, a few years ago my sister and I decided to break free from the corporate world and started a healthy Indian snack business called Dhikari, in memory of our late mother who was an incredible home cook. It was such a challenging experience, but I enjoyed every moment and gained so many different skills.
As you can probably tell, I am a huge believer of following your instincts and being in charge of your own life. Unfortunately, it was a tragic circumstance which ultimately made me find my true path. Aged 19, and in my second year of university, my life dramatically changed when my vivacious and loving mother was suddenly diagnosed with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. She was only 48. Though she fought as hard as she could, the disease had already progressed to the advanced stages and she passed away a mere three months later.
When she died, my whole world fell apart. I lost my anchor, my champion, my sense of belonging and my greatest love. I felt entirely alone in the world, without purpose or direction. None of my friends had experienced anything as devastating and life-changing as this, and my family were all dealing with their own overwhelming grief. Without the support from familiar faces I had previously relied on, I felt even more isolated, and saw no alternative but to suppress my grief and move on with my life.
The last 13 years of growing into adulthood, without my mum by my side, have been a rollercoaster of emotions, challenges and adjustments. However, more than anything, grieving for her has highlighted just how little support there is for bereaved young adults in the UK and beyond. Our society has limited awareness of how a monumental loss, such as the death of a parent, sibling or partner can negatively impact the personal development and mental health of a young adult. Young adults rarely find adequate support from friends and family members. They rarely find vital outlets for their grief, and the silence is deafening.
Founding Your New Normal
A year ago I found myself reflecting on my grief journey and how I had found my own way from a place of isolation and vulnerability to one of gratitude and courage. I realised how much passion I had for this cause and how compelled I felt to use the biggest tragedy in my life to affect positive change in the lives of others.
Knowing in my heart of hearts that a ‘professional career’ was never going to be fulfilling enough for me, and with a clear determination and drive to help other young people dealing with grief, in November 2018 I established a social media platform called Your New Normal, to connect with other bereaved young adults and learn about their experiences. It soon became clear that my experience of grief was also the experience of so many other bereaved young adults across the world. They too felt unsupported, isolated and that they had no one in their lives who could relate to their pain.
Over the next few months I focused on creating raw and honest content, which documented my personal journey through grief and the challenges and transformations that took place. It was amazing to see the domino effect of my posts, which prompted others to speak out about their experiences both publicly and in private messages. Even now, every time I receive a message from a fellow young griever who has found comfort and community in my posts, I feel so honoured that they have chosen to reach out and share their personal story with me. These communications are a constant source of inspiration for me and drive my mission to find more ways of supporting bereaved young adults.
Looking to the future
After a successful pilot at the London Academy of Excellence in Stratford, Your New Normal is currently working with SOAS University of London and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to establish grief workshops for their students. Our interactive grief workshops are run by volunteers who have experienced the death of a loved one and provide an opportunity for bereaved young adults to creatively express and vocalise their grief and hear about the experiences of others within a safe and open space.
My future goal for YNN is to expand support to even more young bereaved adults across the world by developing it into a multi-platform initiative, which will include original video content and articles, as well as organising panel discussions, events and grief workshops using art, writing and mindfulness as forms of expression. I want to keep using my voice to raise more awareness, and also plan to write and publish a collection of personal essays on young adult grief. We are only at the start of hopefully a long journey and I am really excited to see where we end up!
Dealing with failure and negativity
Failure is inevitable. Depending on your definition and how self-critical you are, it is possible to face failure every day. It would be disingenuous to say that failure isn’t mentally challenging and won’t plummet your confidence. However, it is by all means never the end of the story.
Failure is a feeling I have become accustomed to from a young age. I still recall the permanent feeling of dread I experienced every time I opened my email inbox, knowing that there will would be another rejection letter waiting for me, with the familiar set of words that had become engrained in my brain: ‘thank you for your interest in x law firm but unfortunately...’. At the time, the idea of failure consumed me, and I took every letter I received extremely personally. However, with the benefit of hindsight I am now able to see that considering the number of applications law firms receive every year from identical candidates, rejections were inevitable and all it took was one acceptance, which eventually materialised.
My advice for coping with failure is to always allow yourself the time to reflect; learn from any mistakes and build your confidence. Take your time through these tougher periods and be kind to yourself along the way. There is a saying that goes something like: ‘behind every success is a series of failures’. I carry these words everywhere to remind me that failure is one step closer to success.
Do you feel inspired?
You are never too young to do what you love. I wish that I had learnt this lesson earlier on in life - it would have saved me a lot of time! However, I am truly glad to have got there in the end and be in a position to share my learnings with you.
Here are my top three tips for becoming a young entrepreneur:
1. Don’t follow the crowd. We are all individuals with our own unique combination of strengths and passions. In the past, I made so many decisions based on what I thought I should be doing and soon discovered that this left me unfulfilled and unhappy. It’s important to take the time to figure out who you are and what you want out of life. Be honest with yourself. If you want a stable life and source of income then may be entrepreneurship isn’t for you. Maybe think about a stable job that will allow you to have an entrepreneurial side hustle! However, if you feel like innovation and creativity is in your blood and you want a career that is both challenging and rewarding, then may be entrepreneurship is the right path to follow. For me, the benefits and self-satisfaction far outweigh the unpredictable nature of entrepreneurism!
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Before I started my food business, I spent six months contacting and meeting individuals who were further along in their journey than I was. They were so eager to share their experiences and offer advice. I learnt more from speaking to them than I did in any of the books and articles I read.
3. Be prepared for change. You may believe that you have a great idea or have a solution to a problem that needs solving. However, it is only after a period of market testing and gaining feedback that you can really know for sure. This laying of foundations and carrying out the groundwork is vital in ensuring that you don’t get carried away. You may find after testing that you need to modify your idea or start again from scratch, so it’s always good to be prepared in case this happens!
Article published: 7th November 2019
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